Without a doubt, the one game every N.C. State fan circles on the schedule is when the North Carolina Tar Heels invade PNC Arena. Rivalry or not, there is always plenty of buzz in the Triangle when these two ACC foes go at it on the hardwood.
Saturday is the latest installment of the series, and with the Wolfpack picked to win the ACC in the preseason, it has attracted even more attention than usual. So much, in fact, that Saturday’s 7 p.m. tipoff will be nationally televised on ESPN with the network’s top announcing team of Dan Shulman and Dick Vitale on the call.
Additionally, College GameDay will originate from PNC Arena the morning of the game. Over 7,000 State students requested tickets for the game, with nearly half of them coming away empty handed.
“It should be a lot of fun,” Wolfpack head coach Mark Gottfried said Wednesday during his weekly radio show. “It’s great exposure for our team, our fans and N.C. State University.”
No. 18 State currently sits at 15-4 with a 4-2 mark in the ACC. The Pack is coming off an 86-84 upset loss to Wake Forest in Winston-Salem on Tuesday night. Junior forward C.J. Leslie leads the way for State, averaging 15.3 points per game. Junior guard Lorenzo Brown is second in scoring with 12.8 points per game and first in assists with 6.9. The Wolfpack’s leading rebounder is senior forward Richard Howell, who pulls down a whopping 10.9 boards per game. As a team, N.C. State shoots 51 percent from the field, which is third in the country.
However, the Pack struggled from the free-throw line in the loss to Wake, going only 56 percent. There were struggles on defense as well, particularly in the second half. State allowed the Demon Deacons to shoot nearly 60 percent from the field in the final period on Tuesday.
“One thing you need to do is make sure you’re improving on the things you’re doing,” Gottfried said on the radio show.
That certainly applies to defense and foul shooting against the Tar Heels. UNC is averaging 78.6 points per game, good for 14th in the nation. Carolina’s record is 13-5 and 3-2 in conference. They started ACC play with consecutive losses to Virginia and Miami, but have since bounced back to win three straight. Carolina is coming off a 79-63 victory over Georgia Tech on Wednesday, pushing them into a tie with Duke for third place in the conference.
State’s big men will have to contend with UNC sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo, who leads his team in both scoring and rebounding with 14.7 and 8.3 per game, respectively. Junior swingman Reggie Bullock is right behind him, averaging 14.3 points and 5.8 boards.
UNC will be without junior guard Leslie McDonald for Saturday’s game. Heels coach Roy Williams announced shortly before the Georgia Tech game on Wednesday that McDonald would miss three games for academic reasons. McDonald had already missed the previous three games due to a knee injury. McDonald is averaging 8.4 points this season.
Carolina swept three meetings last season, including a 69-67 last-second win in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament. They lead the overall series with State 147-75. The Wolfpack’s last win in the series came in 2007, when they upset then-No. 3 UNC 83-79 in Raleigh. It was former coach Sidney Lowe’s first and only win against the Tar Heels.
Gottfried insists that prior meetings will not play a part in Saturday’s game plan.
“I’ve watched them play this year,” Gottfried said on his show. “They’re a different team, and I’m not going to base it off of previous games.”
Additionally, Gottfried isn’t letting the magnitude of the game get into his head. He is approaching it just like any other ACC game, despite the extensive TV coverage and monumental amount of anticipation on the N.C. State campus.
“They’re all big,” Gottfried said towards the end of his show. “You always find the things that will motivate your guys. Our guys will be excited about it.”